The Royal Ascot Meeting is one of the horse racing highlights of any year, as well as being an integral part of England’s social calendar. Since 1711, this attractive part of Berkshire has attracted thousands of visitors – hoping to see some of the world’s best thoroughbred race horses and to mingle with some famous faces.
Ascot itself is a small town not far from Windsor Castle, on the A329 and A330 roads. It is, therefore, situated conveniently close to the M3, M4, M40 and M25 motorways and also to London Heathrow Airport. The local railway station, a mere seven minute walk from the Race Course, has frequent services to London Waterloo (46 minutes) and Reading (27 minutes).
The race course itself was the idea of Queen Anne, and the very first race was in August, 1711, ‘Her Majesty’s Plate’, with a prize of 100 guineas to the winner. At the Royal Ascot Race Meeting there is still a Queen Anne Stakes – but the prize fund is considerably higher. The famous Ascot Gold Cup, still the feature race of the third day of the meeting, ‘Ladies’ Day’, was introduced in 1807.
Traditionally, the British Royal family attend the meeting, arriving each day in a horse-drawn carriage and driving along the course, waving to the spectators. Her Majesty the Queen is famously interested in horse racing and has been the winning owner of many races at the meeting. It is usual for the Queen herself to present the winning trophies to the owners of the winners of the Gold Cup, the Royal Hunt Cup and the Queen’s Vase. Quite unusually in top class sport, these trophies are made annually so that the winners can keep them rather than return them at the end of their year.
Although Ascot Race Course has been established for over three hundred years, it is continuing to develop to keep abreast of the times. The most recent significant change to the course was the opening, in June 2006, of a spectacular new grandstand which, as well as being a glass and aluminium structure of impressive dimensions, also has the latest in fittings and facilities.
The restaurant areas at Ascot are unsurpassable for a sporting venue, with at least eight top-class establishments open to the public and many other smaller food and drink outlets. More than 300,000 spectators attend the Royal Ascot Race Meeting and it has a famous dress code for visitors. People who obtain a Grandstand ticket are expected to wear clothes ‘appropriate to a smart occasion’ – with most ladies wearing hats and all gentlemen definitely wearing a shirt and tie. Although the less expensive Silver Ring ticket does not insist on a formal dress code, racegoers are, nevertheless, ‘encouraged’ to wear smart clothing.
Although there are race meetings at Ascot throughout the year, only one of them is designated as ‘Royal’ and that takes place in the middle of June annually, There are different categories of tickets available but it is not generally possible to purchase tickets for the Royal Enclosure unless they are part of a complete package, including dining in one of the more exclusive restaurants. But with live music, large screen televisions and many added attractions Grandstand tickets and Silver Ring tickets still offer a good day out. It is also important to note that, unlike the other race meetings at Ascot, it is not possible to upgrade your ticket on the day at the Royal Meeting.
There are, of course, a large number of hotels and guest houses in the area around Ascot but these do tend to be fully booked a long time in advance. Given the proximity of such good transport links, it would probably be more economical to stay a little further away from the course, in any case. Further details about Royal Ascot can always be found at http://www.ascot.co.uk/ .